Saturday, August 22, 2009

Political columnist asks: Do we have a free marketplace of ideas or a cheering contest?

We've written a good bit this month about the responsibility of journalists at all levels to help voters sort out the health-reform debate amid the partisan and ideological messages that have dominated the conversation and are usually biased and often misleading. Today in his weekly column, Ronnie Ellis of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. urges readers to consider information from more than one side.

"If everyone you know believes the earth is flat, why wouldn’t you?" asks Ellis, a reporter based in the Kentucky state capital of Frankfort. "More and more people get their news – and views – from inside the echo chamber of their own political philosophy or party. Walk into offices of Democrats and you are not likely to see Fox News on the television. You’ll see nothing else down the hall in the Republican’s office."

Ellis calls for a return to "original libertarian" John Stuart Mill's “free marketplace of ideas,” a place where ideas can compete."If you never listen to the other side, you won’t notice when they may be on to something. That attitude also makes it difficult for the two major parties to tolerate dissent within their own ranks. ... The 'competition' of ideas comes more to resemble the attitude of sports fans – cheering for one side not because that side is right or is intellectually or morally superior but because of the party name in front of their name. ... Of course, when you already know the earth is flat, why listen to those who say otherwise?" (Read more)

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